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In the beginning of the trade with New Mexico, the route across

 the great plains was directly west from the Missouri River to the
 mountains, thence south to Santa Fe by the circuitous trail from Taos.
 When the traffic assumed an importance demanding a more easy line
 of way, the road was changed, running along the left bank of the
 Arkansas until that stream turned northwest, at which point it
 crossed the river, and continued southwest to the Raton Pass.
 
 The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad track substantially
 follows the Trail through the mountains, which here afford the
 wildest and most picturesquely beautiful scenery on the continent.
 
 The Arkansas River at the fording of the Old Trail is not more than
 knee-deep at an ordinary stage of water, and its bottom is well paved
 with rounded pebbles of the primitive rock.
 
 The overland trade between the United States and the northern
 provinces of Mexico seems to have had no very definite origin;
 having been rather the result of an accident than of any organized
 plan of commercial establishment.
 
 According to the best authorities, a French creole, named La Lande,
 an agent of a merchant of Kaskaskia, Illinois, was the first American
 adventurer to enter into the uncertain channels of trade with the
 people of the ultramontane region of the centre of the continent.
 He began his adventurous journey across the vast wilderness,
 with no companions but the savages of the debatable land, in 1804;
 and following him the next year, James Pursley undertook the same
 pilgrimage.  Neither of these pioneers in the "commerce of the
 prairies" returned to relate what incidents marked the passage of
 their marvellous expeditions.  Pursley was so infatuated with the
 strange country he had travelled so far to reach, that he took up
 his abode in the quaint old town of Santa Fe where his subsequent
 life is lost sight of.  La Lande, of a different mould, forgot to
 render an account of his mission to the merchant who had sent him
 there, and became a prosperous and wealthy man by means of money
 to which he had no right.
 
 To Captain Zebulon Pike, who afterwards was made a general, is due
 the impetus which the trade with Santa Fe received shortly after
 his return to the United States.  The student of American history
 will remember that the expedition commanded by this soldier was
 inaugurated in 1806; his report of the route he had taken was the
 incentive for commercial speculation in the direction of trade with
 New Mexico, but it was so handicapped by restrictions imposed by the
 Mexican government, that the adventurers into the precarious traffic
 were not only subject to a complete confiscation of their wares,
 but frequently imprisoned for months as spies.  Under such a condition
 of affairs, many of the earlier expeditions, prior to 1822, resulted
 in disaster, and only a limited number met with an indifferent success.
 
 It will not be inconsistent with my text if I herewith interpolate
 an incident connected with Pursley, the second American to cross
 the desert, for the purpose of trade with New Mexico, which I find in
 the _Magazine of American History_:
 
           When Zebulon M. Pike was in Mexico, in 1807, he met,
           at Santa Fe, a carpenter, Pursley by name, from Bardstown,
           Kentucky, who was working at his trade.  He had in a
           previous year, while out hunting on the Plains, met with
           a series of misfortunes, and found himself near the
           mountains.  The hostile Sioux drove the party into the
           high ground in the rear of Pike's Peak.  Near the headwaters
           of the Platte River, Pursley found some gold, which he
           carried in his shot-pouch for months.  He was finally sent
           by his companions to Santa Fe, to see if they could trade
           with the Mexicans, but he chose to remain in Santa Fe
           in preference to returning to his comrades.  He told the
           Mexicans about the gold he had found, and they tried hard
           to persuade him to show them the place.  They even offered
           to take along a strong force of cavalry.  But Pursley
           refused, and his patriotic reason was that he thought the
           land belonged to the United States.  He told Captain Pike
           that he feared they would not allow him to leave Santa Fe,
           as they still hoped to learn from him where the gold was
           to be found.  These facts were published by Captain Pike
           soon after his return east; but no one took the hint,
           or the risk was too great, and thus more than a half
           a century passed before those same rich fields of gold
           were found and opened to the world.  If Pursley had been
           somewhat less patriotic, and had guided the Mexicans to
           the treasures, the whole history and condition of the
           western part of our continent might have been entirely
           different from what it now is.  That region would still
           have been a part of Mexico, or Spain might have been
           in possession of it, owning California; and, with the gold
           that would have been poured into her coffers, would have
           been the leading nation of European affairs to-day.
           We can easily see how American and European history in
           the nineteenth century might have been changed, if that
           adventurer from Kentucky had not been a true lover of his
           native country.
 
 The adventures of Captain Ezekiel Williams along the Old Trail,
 in the early days of the century, tell a story of wonderful courage,
 endurance, and persistency.  Williams was a man of great perseverance,
 patience, and determination of character.  He set out from St. Louis
 in the late spring of 1807, to trap on the Upper Missouri and the
 waters of the Yellowstone, with a party of twenty men who had chosen
 him as their leader.  After various exciting incidents and thrilling
 adventures, all of the original party, except Williams and two others,
 were killed by the Indians somewhere in the vicinity of the Upper
 Arkansas.  The three survivors, not knowing where they were, separated,
 and Captain Williams determined to take to the stream by canoe, and
 trap on his way toward the settlements, while his last two companions
 started for the Spanish country--that is, for the region of Santa Fe.
 The journal of Williams, from which I shall quote freely, is to be
 found in _The Lost Trappers_, a work long out of print.[11]  As the
 country was an unexplored region, he might be on a river that flowed
 into the Pacific, or he might be drifting down a stream that was
 an affluent to the Gulf of Mexico.  He was inclined to believe
 that he was on the sources of the Red River.  He therefore resolved
 to launch his canoe, and go wherever the stream might convey him,
 trapping on his descent, when beaver might be plenty.
 
 The first canoe he used he made of buffalo-skins.  As this kind
 of water conveyance soon begins to leak and rot, he made another
 of cottonwood, as soon as he came to timber sufficiently large,
 in which he embarked for a port, he knew not where.
 
 Most of his journeyings Captain Williams performed during the hours
 of night, excepting when he felt it perfectly safe to travel in
 daylight.  His usual plan was to glide along down the stream, until
 he came to a place where beaver signs were abundant.  There he would
 push his little bark among the willows, where he remained concealed,
 excepting when he was setting his traps or visiting them in the
 morning.  When he had taken all the beaver in one neighbourhood,
 he would untie his little conveyance, and glide onward and downward
 to try his luck in another place.
 
 Thus for hundreds of miles did this solitary trapper float down this
 unknown river, through an unknown country, here and there lashing
 his canoe to the willows and planting his traps in the little
 tributaries around.  The upper part of the Arkansas, for this
 proved to be the river he was on,[12] is very destitute of timber,
 and the prairie frequently begins at the bank of the river and
 expands on either side as far as the eye can reach.  He saw vast
 herds of buffalo, and as it was the rutting season, the bulls were
 making a wonderful ado; the prairie resounded with their low, deep
 grunting or bellowing, as they tore up the earth with their feet
 and horns, whisking their tails, and defying their rivals to battle.
 Large gangs of wild horses could be seen grazing on the plains and
 hillsides, and the neighing and squealing of stallions might be heard
 at all times of the night.
 
 Captain Williams never used his rifle to procure meat, except when
 it was absolutely necessary, or could be done with perfect safety.
 On occasions when he had no beaver, upon which he generally subsisted,
 he ventured to kill a deer, and after refreshing his empty stomach
 with a portion of the flesh, he placed the carcass in one end of the
 canoe.  It was his invariable custom to sleep in his canoe at night,
 moored to the shore, and once when he had laid in a supply of venison
 he was startled in his sleep by the tramping of something in the
 bushes on the bank.  Tramp! tramp! tramp! went the footsteps,
 as they approached the canoe.  He thought at first it might be an
 Indian that had found out his locality, but he knew that it could
 not be; a savage would not approach him in that careless manner.
 Although there was beautiful starlight, yet the trees and the dense
 undergrowth made it very dark on the bank of the river, close to which
 he lay.  He always adopted the precaution of tying his canoe with
 a piece of rawhide about twenty feet long, which allowed it to swing
 from the bank at that distance; he did this so that in case of an
 emergency he might cut the string, and glide off without making
 any noise.  As the sound of the footsteps grew more distinct,
 he presently observed a huge grizzly bear coming down to the water
 and swimming for the canoe.  The great animal held his head up as if
 scenting the venison.  The captain snatched his axe as the most
 available means to defend himself in such a scrape, and stood with
 it uplifted, ready to drive it into the brains of the monster.
 The bear reached the canoe, and immediately put his fore paws upon
 the hind end of it, nearly turning it over.  The captain struck one
 of the brute's feet with the edge of the axe, which made him let go
 with that foot, but he held on with the other, and he received
 this time a terrific blow on the head, that caused him to drop away
 from the canoe entirely.  Nothing more was seen of the bear,
 and the captain thought he must have sunk in the stream and drowned.
 He was evidently after the fresh meat, which he scented from a great
 distance.  In the canoe the next morning there were two of the bear's
 claws, which had been cut off by the well-directed blow of the axe.
 These were carefully preserved by Williams for many years as a trophy
 which he was fond of exhibiting, and the history of which he always
 delighted to tell.
 
 As he was descending the river with his peltries, which consisted of
 one hundred and twenty-five beaver-skins, besides some of the otter
 and other smaller animals, he overtook three Kansas Indians, who were
 also in a canoe going down the river, as he learned from them,
 to some post to trade with the whites.  They manifested a very
 friendly disposition towards the old trapper, and expressed a wish
 to accompany him.  He also learned from them, to his great delight,
 that he was on the Big Arkansas, and not more than five hundred miles
 from the white settlements.  He was well enough versed in the
 treachery of the Indian character to know just how much he could
 repose in their confidence.  He was aware that they would not allow
 a solitary trapper to pass through their country with a valuable
 collection of furs, without, at least, making an effort to rob him.
 He knew that their plan would be to get him into a friendly
 intercourse, and then, at the first opportunity, strip him of
 everything he possessed; consequently he was determined to get rid
 of them as soon as possible, and to effect this, he plied his oars
 with all diligence.  The Indians, like most North American savages,
 were lazy, and had no disposition to labour in that way, but took it
 quite leisurely, satisfied with being carried down by the current.
 Williams soon left them in the rear, and, as he supposed, far
 behind him.  When night came on, however, as he had worked all day,
 and slept none the night before, he resolved to turn aside into a
 bunch of willows to take a few hours' rest.  But he had not stopped
 more than forty minutes when he heard some Indians pull to the shore
 just above him on the same side of the river.  He immediately
 loosened his canoe from its moorings, and glided silently away.
 He rowed hard for two or three hours, when he again pulled to the
 bank and tied up.
 
 Only a short time after he had landed, he heard Indians again going
 on shore on the same side of the stream as himself.  A second time
 he repeated his tactics, slipped out of his place of concealment,
 and stole softly away.  He pulled on vigorously until some time after
 midnight, when he supposed he could with safety stop and snatch a
 little sleep.  He felt apprehensive that he was in a dangerous region,
 and his anxiety kept him wide awake.  It was very lucky that he
 did not close his eyes; for as he was lying in the bottom of his canoe
 he heard for the third time a canoe land as before.  He was now
 perfectly satisfied that he was dogged by the Kansans whom he had
 passed the preceding day, and in no very good humour, therefore,
 he picked up his rifle, and walked up to the bank where he had heard
 the Indians land.  As he suspected, there were the three savages.
 When they saw the captain, they immediately renewed their expressions
 of friendship, and invited him to partake of their hospitality.
 He stood aloof from them, and shook his head in a rage, charging
 them with their villanous purposes.  In the short, sententious manner
 of the Indians, he said to them: "You now follow me three times;
 if you follow me again, I kill you!" and wheeling around abruptly,
 returned to his canoe.  A third time the solitary trapper pushed
 his little craft from the shore and set off down stream, to get away
 from a region where to sleep would be hazardous.  He plied his oars
 the remainder of the night, and solaced himself with the thought
 that no evil had befallen him, except the loss of a few hours' sleep.
 
 While he was escaping from his villanous pursuers, he was running
 into new dangers and difficulties.  The following day he overtook
 a large band of the same tribe, under the leadership of a chief,
 who were also descending the river.  Into the hands of these savages
 he fell a prisoner, and was conducted to one of their villages.
 The principal chief there took all of his furs, traps, and other
 belongings.  A very short time after his capture, the Kansans went
 to war with the Pawnees, and carried Captain Williams with them.
 In a terrible battle in which the Kansans gained a most decided
 victory, the old trapper bore a conspicuous part, killing a great
 number of the enemy, and by his excellent strategy brought about
 the success of his captors.  When they returned to the village,
 Williams, who had ever been treated with kindness by the inhabitants,
 was now thought to be a wonderful warrior, and could have been
 advanced to all the savage honours; he might even have been made
 one of their principal chiefs.  The tribe gave him his liberty for
 the great service he had rendered it in its difficulty with an
 inveterate foe, but declining all proffered promotions, he decided
 to return to the white settlements on the Missouri, at the mouth
 of the Kaw, the covetous old chief retaining all his furs, and indeed
 everything he possessed excepting his rifle, with as many rounds
 of ammunition as would be necessary to secure him provisions in the
 shape of game on his route.  The veteran trapper had learned from
 the Indians while with them that they expected to go to Fort Osage
 on the Missouri River to receive some annuities from the government,
 and he felt certain that his furs would be there at the same time.
 
 After leaving the Kansans he travelled on toward the Missouri,
 and soon struck the beginning of the sparse settlements.  Just as
 evening was coming on, he arrived at a cluster of three little
 log-cabins, and was received with genuine backwoods hospitality by
 the proprietor, who had married an Osage squaw.  Williams was not only
 very hungry, but very tired; and, after enjoying an abundant supper,
 he became stupid and sleepy, and expressed a wish to lie down.
 The generous trapper accordingly conducted him to one of the cabins,
 in which there were two beds, standing in opposite corners of
 the room.  He immediately threw himself upon one, and was soon in
 a very deep sleep.  About midnight his slumbers were disturbed by
 a singular and very frightful kind of noise, accompanied by struggling
 on the other bed.  What it was, Williams was entirely at a loss to
 understand.  There were no windows in the cabin, the door was shut,
 and it was as dark as Egypt.  A fierce contest seemed to be going on.
 There were deep groanings and hard breathings; and the snapping of
 teeth appeared almost constant.  For a moment the noise would subside,
 then again the struggles woud be renewed accompanied as before
 with groaning, deep sighing, and grinding of teeth.
 
 The captain's bed-clothes consisted of a couple of blankets and a
 buffalo-robe, and as the terrible struggles continued he raised
 himself up in the bed, and threw the robe around him for protection,
 his rifle having been left in the cabin where his host slept, while
 his knife was attached to his coat, which he had hung on the corner
 post of the other bedstead from which the horrid struggles emanated.
 In an instant the robe was pulled off, and he was left uncovered and
 unprotected; in another moment a violent snatch carried away the
 blanket upon which he was sitting, and he was nearly tumbled off the
 bed with it.  As the next thing might be a blow in the dark, he felt
 that it was high time to shift his quarters; so he made a desperate
 leap from the bed, and alighted on the opposite side of the room,
 calling for his host, who immediately came to his relief by opening
 the door.  Williams then told him that the devil--or something
 as bad, he believed--was in the room, and he wanted a light.
 The accommodating trapper hurried away, and in a moment was back
 with a candle, the light of which soon revealed the awful mystery.
 It was an Indian, who at the time was struggling in convulsions,
 which he was subject to.  He was a superannuated chief, a relative of
 the wife of the hospitable trapper, and generally made his home there.
 Absent when Captain Williams arrived, he came into the room at a
 very late hour, and went to the bed he usually occupied.  No one
 on the claim knew of his being there until he was discovered,
 in a dreadfully mangled condition.  He was removed to other quarters,
 and Williams, who was not to be frightened out of a night's rest,
 soon sunk into sound repose.
 
 Williams reached the agency by the time the Kansas Indians arrived
 there, and, as he suspected, found that the wily old chief had brought
 all his belongings, which he claimed, and the agent made the savages
 give up the stolen property before he would pay them a cent of their
 annuities.  He took his furs down to St. Louis, sold them there
 at a good price, and then started back to the Rocky Mountains on
 another trapping tour.